Three years after her 15-year-old daughter, Hajara, and over 270 others were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Borno State, Yanana Bukar, still hopes for her daughter’s return.
“At a point, I actually did not know what to do with the absence of my dear daughter – should I mourn her as a dead person or should I continue to grief over her as a lost child whom I hope would someday return to me”, Mrs. Bukar said in a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES.
She said many of the parents of the other girls are in a similar state as hers; and that she had given up hope of ever seeing her daughter.
“Having your precious daughter in some unknown jungle coupled with the news being told about how wicked and bloodthirsty Boko Haram insurgents are, does not help one to have normal blood pressure.
“Sometimes, I had even given up on Hajara my daughter because we hear the news of how Boko Haram kill people at will.”
Hajara and the other 275 girls were in the dormitory at the Government Secondary School in Chibok on April 14, 2014 when the school was attacked by Boko Haram terrorists and the girls kidnapped.
Efforts by government and the Nigerian military to free any of the girls were unsuccessful until at least two years after their kidnap.
However, 57 of the girls managed to escape on their own while two were found by locals in the remote areas close to the Sambisa forest. Twenty-one others were released by their abductors following negotiations with the Muhammadu Buhari administration after over two years in captivity.
About 19 of the parents of the abducted girls have died as a result of trauma, while the rest have been living in grief, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
Mrs. Bukar said her hope was rekindled with the release of 21 of the Chibok schoolgirls on October 13, last year.
“My daughter’s name is Hajara Isa”, she said in a somber voice.
“We are still looking up to God for his kindness. If our girls are still alive, He should help us see that they come out safely just the way the 21 others were released.”
Mrs. Bukar, a mother of four, said she was informed by the 21 released girls who visited Chibok last Christmas that her daughter was alive and sent her greetings.
“When the freed girls were brought to Chibok to celebrate Christmas, we were able to interact with them and they informed me that my daughter is well, and that she sent her greeting and asked that I should also continue to pray for her. I don’t know how true this sweet news could be, but it gladdened my heart because it comes from some of her peers.
“I will not give up hope on her. The God that answered the prayers of other parents will surely answer my own and those of others yet to be freed as well.”
ANOTHER MOTHER GRIEFS
Another mother of one of the girls, who chose not to mention her name for her personal safety within the community, said she was not happy that community leaders in Chibok castigated those who had publicly lamented their situation.
The woman said she wondered why they kept hearing reports that thousands of women and children were being rescued by troops, and yet none of the remaining 195 girls were found even after the fall of Sambisa forest.
“I am not going to mention my name in this interview because the last time we went to speak to the media, our community leaders singled us out for reprimand and all sort of threats”, she told PREMIUM TIMES.
“But I am not scared of speaking my mind on this matter. We are tired of hearing stories and empty promises. What exactly is the problem with our government?
“We have waited patiently as days run into weeks; weeks to months, and it is three years today. All we get is cold promises.
“Is it not the same jungle from which the 21 girls were released? Is it not in the same bush that the two other girls were found? So, why is it difficult for the security forces to get our remaining girls rescued once and for all?”
“We thought the rescued girls should have by now given the troops all the needed information about where the Boko Haram have been hiding them so that they could go in there and rescue them.
“We, the parents of the girls have met recently to discuss the plight of our abducted daughters, and we had concluded that it is high time we began to speak with our own voices.
“We have agreed that we are going to mobilise resources either through the sale of our farm produce, or by selling firewood or by any other means of our livelihood so that we can travel down to Abuja to meet President Buhari and present our cries to him. We are tired of all the politics and empty promises,” she said.
The middle-aged woman spoke to this newspaper on Thursday, the day her eldest daughter, the immediate senior to Aisha, got married.
She said though the wedding day of her daughter would have been a happy day for her, it turned out with mixed feelings because of her missing daughter.
“My first daughter is getting married today”, she said. “But her younger sister, Aisha is not here to stand by her side as we had long planned. It is really sad for me”.
She said her missing daughter was 15 years old at the time she was abducted in April 2014.
“If she is alive and as I was told by the 21 girls that were recently released, then she should be in her 18th year by now”, she said.
“They told me that some of the girls were married off, but my daughter had not been married at the time they were leaving”, she added.
The federal government has confirmed that it is in negotiations with Boko Haram to free the remaining Chibok girls.
On Thursday, President Muhammadu Buhari reiterated his administration’s commitment to do everything possible to free the girls.
“Like I have repeatedly said, the Federal Government is willing to bend over backwards to secure the release of the remaining Chibok girls,” he said.
“We have reached out to their captors through local and international intermediaries, and we are ever ready to do everything within our means to ensure the safe release of all the girls.”
TIMELINE ON CHIBOK GIRLS’ ABDUCTION
April 14, 2014: Armed Boko Haram insurgents abducted the Chibok schoolgirls from their dormitory at a time they were writing their final year exams.
About 57 of the girls managed to escape at different times while on transit with their abductors.
April 16, 2014: The military announced that soldiers had rescued over 100 of the girls; a claim the military had to quickly recant after the school principal, Asabe Kwambura, as well as many of the parents of the abducted girls, refuted it.
April 18, 2014: The Borno state governor, Kashim Shettima, offered a N50 million reward for any information that could lead to release of the abducted girls. But no credible information was received to help rescue the girls.
April 21, 2014: The governor defied security warnings to visit Chibok where he was informed by members of a local search party who took it upon themselves to go after the girls and their abductors that they had to give up on the mission following a warning that advancing further into Sambisa forest could cost them their lives.
May 12, 2014: Boko Haram released the first video of the abducted girls, a development which confirmed that the girls were actually in the custody of the Abubakar Shekau-led terror group. Mr. Shekau in the video threatened to marry the girls off or use them as part of his war booty.
May 16, 2014: Former President Goodluck Jonathan canceled a planned trip to Chibok where he was scheduled to meet the missing girls’ parents. The cancellation of the trip stirred anger in the town as parents accused Mr. Jonathan of insensitivity to the plight of their kids who had spent 31 days in captivity at that time.
May 18, 2014: A chance to rescue the girls by local hunters was missed when the Borno State government refused to give approval to the local hunters to invade Sambisa forest on the ground that other than their charms and amulets, they lacked the sophistication to confront the armed Boko Haram gunmen.
May 19, 2014: The federal government sent a delegation led by Ibrahim Sabo, a retired Brigadier-General of the Nigerian Army, on a fact-finding mission, amongst other things, to find out why the Borno State government kept the school in Chibok opened when others were closed at that time. The committee did not visit Chibok.
May 20, 2014: The Borno State government set up a N150 million special funds for the rehabilitation of the 57 escapees Chibok girls.
October 16, 2014: The former Chief of Defence Staff, Alex Badeh, an Air Vice-Marshal, announced that the federal government had reached a ceasefire deal with leaders of Boko Haram and that the 216 girls in captivity would soon be released. But Boko Haram leaders quickly denied that claim.
November 2, 2014: Boko Haram leader, Mr. Shekau, released a video during which he declared that all the 216 girls in his custody had been converted to Islam and married off. He also denied ever negotiating with the federal government concerning the girls.
March 24, 2015: A woman who escaped from Boko Haram captivity revealed that some of the Chibok girls were being held somewhere near Gwoza and that two of the girls had been killed during a military air strike on one of the terrorists’ locations.
May 29, 2015: President Muhammadu Buhari, in his inaugural speech, promised to end Boko Haram insurgency and rescue the Chibok schoolgirls within six months.
August 29, 2015: President Buhari met 90 of the parents of the abducted Chibok girls during which he restated the promise to rescue the girls.
November 30, 2015: President Buhari dashed the hopes of many Nigerians when he told the world during his maiden media chat that there was no “credible information” on the whereabouts of the Chibok girls.
February 5, 2016: Nigeria’s former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, declared that the 219 missing Chibok girls may never be found.
May 18, 2016: One of the abducted Chibok girls, Amina Ali Nkeki, was found with her baby and a man she identified as her husband.
October 13, 2016: Boko Haram released 21 Chibok girls following a negotiation deal.
January 5, 2017: Another Chibok girl, Rakiya Abubakar, was found with her baby, which brings to 23 the number of the abducted girls to have regained freedom to date.